Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Over the Hump

The eager Bucs started down the stretch with a sharp Wednesday practice

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DT Brad Culpepper was following the team's plan when he left Wednesday's practice early

The most important football week in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history is reaching midstream, and the usual media contingency at One Buccaneer Place has doubled, then doubled again. The Bucs play the St. Louis Rams in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday in Missouri, and the Rams carry the threat of the league's number-one offense and what will surely be a very noisy Trans World Dome.

What does all of this mean to Head Coach Tony Dungy?

If you're a Buc fan of any magnitude, you know the answer to that question without hesitation: business as usual. Dungy values the team's routine immensely and he is genuinely unfazed by the hype surrounding Sunday's game. The same appears to be true of his players, who got down to that business on Wednesday. So let's get down to it as well.

The Buccaneers practiced for approximately two hours on a crisp and cloudless Wednesday afternoon, taking their first active cracks at counteracting the Rams' vaunted offense. Dungy was pleased with his team's opening effort, even if a host of nagging injuries kept the Bucs just off top speed.

"Overall, practice was very good today," said Dungy. "I think we put ourselves in position to have a very sharp workout tomorrow. Today was a learning day for us to get to know St. Louis and the different things they do, so it was a little slower-paced."

Tampa Bay was also slowed a bit by the absence or partial absence of several players, including the team's interior defensive linemen. The Buccaneers' injury report is 10 players long, more than the other three conference championship teams combined, but most are ailments that are not expected to keep players out of Sunday's game. However, defensive tackles Warren Sapp (hamstring) and Brad Culpepper (foot) did leave today's practice a little early.

"We had a plan with Warren and Brad going into the practice," said Dungy. "We wanted to get as much work out of them as we could, and if they got sore, they would go in and get iced down. We actually did the same thing with (safety) John Lynch and (cornerback) Donnie Abraham, but they both made it all of the way through. I think they'll all be okay and ready to go on Sunday."

Other than the two players already ruled out for Tampa Bay – QB Trent Dilfer (shoulder) and LB Alshermond Singleton (leg) – the Bucs have only one player they consider truly a question mark for Sunday's game, WR Reidel Anthony. However, DT James Cannida could be added to that list tomorrow after pulling his left hamstring during today's practice. Cannida was in the middle of extra reps with the early departures of Sapp and Culpepper.

Anthony, though listed as questionable, is not likely to be in action in St. Louis, according to Dungy. "I think he's going to be out," said the Bucs' coach after Wednesday's practice. "It's going to be tough, from what (head trainer) Todd (Toriscelli) said, since (Anthony) hasn't run for two weeks. So he probably won't go, but we've got guys that can do the job."

Dungy also indicated that Dilfer has been classified as 'out' on the injury report because he was still experiencing soreness in his right arm and shoulder and would not be available for the NFC Championship Game. "He won't be active this week," said Dungy. "If we're fortunate enough to win and go on to the Super Bowl, will re-examine him next week. But he's still sore, so we'll stick with the three guys that we've had in there."

Those three, starter Shaun King and back-ups Eric Zeier and Scott Milanovich, will get another full day of work on Thursday in preparation for Sunday's game. The team will follow its normal routine on Thursday and Friday, of course, before departing Friday afternoon for the Gateway City. But then, you wouldn't expect anything else, would you?

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